(Photo by Celina Dasneves)
The story of a musical turnaround. That is, perhaps the best way to describe what happened in the last 6-7 years of life of the Canadian collective No Sinner, from being on the casp of calling it a day to make a massive come back with a brand, ballsy and beautiful new album, the 2016's Old Habits Die Hard.
Colleen Rennison, No Sinner's band leader, has been through a very long journey with the band so far in her career, a true Thunder Road, paraphrasing a famous song. Despite all she has been through though, since their 2014's well received debut album Boo Hoo Hoo to the new one, an album that sees the sound of the band turning more into rock territories, Rennison looks happy and very satisfied when talking to Bluebird Reviews at The Borderline in London, UK, about their new album. "Boo Hoo Hoo did actually come out in 2011 but just released by the label in 2014. I would say that Old Habits Die Hard reflects more our true sound and who we are, as a band and as we have always been sounding live on stage. Boo Hoo Hoo was written with an acoustic guitar, with one friend on a kitchen floor while Old Habits is more on what No Sinner is all about and it was a great shame that the album was not released earlier. I feel, in some ways, that Boo Hoo Hoo misrepresented who we are as a collective because the songs on the new album have been ready and played many times before on stage since 2011. A lot happened since Eric (Campbell, the band ex-guitarist) and I were together in the band. There were good times and less good times and sometimes it felt like everything was falling apart but, in the end, it's great still to be here. This European Tour that we are just due to complete has been a splendid experience for myself and the band. To get to play overseas, where you may think that not many know our music and then to be overwhelmed by so many people attending our shows, buying our records... Man, that is such a gift. It shows that people really care about us and our music, which is great".
A sound that has certainly changed a lot, since the departure of Eric Campbell, with a new line-up that make the No Sinner's sound more primitive and powerful. "I would say it's definitely raw, heavier and more real than what it used to be on our first album. I think it's a matter of connecting between musicians, rather than how good you may be as a musician. When Boo Hoo Hoo came out, after we agreed on the album's release, although the songs were fairly old for us, the band fell apart and we felt that we didn't give a damn about No Sinner anymore. There was a lot of tension between all of us at the time but I couldn't let go the whole No Sinner project because the songs that ended up on Old Habits were already there. With the new band, it felt refreshing to me to play those songs and to feel different and exciting vibes and a new found enthusiasm with the new guys in the band because we really connect with one another. We have such a ball all the time we are together and play, I just love these boys. I think you can sense how well we do get on by watching and hearing us playing live on stage. You get a real sense of a band giving it all every time, a true cameraderie going on stage. I cannot wait to start writing new material with the boys because there is finally the feeling that No Sinner is a strong musical entity and that was something I have missed for a long time".
The Canadian artist, prior to the release of Old Habits Die Hard, has been working with producer Ben Kaplan, somebody that has worked a lot with bands in the past with robust rock imprints and our website is wondering whether his work as a producer has shaped the songs of the album in a different way, in comparison to how they were originally created. "Not at all. Ben Kaplan had very little to do with the album overall. We had the opportunity to select a couple of producers for the album but in the end, we went for Ben because he was there and available at the time that our record label gave us the financial "go ahead" to complete the recording. I feel kind of bad that the album did not reflect exactly Ben's vision about a rock album but all that I wanted was to get it finished. At that stage, I did not even have a band, there was just myself and Ben in the studio and, not having any producing experience, it was a great relief for me to have somebody like Ben being there and helping to finish the album. Completing and releasing Old Habits almost killed me and perhaps, the overall sound of the album it's not exactly the one I intended in the first place, but I am glad it's done and it is out there. I couldn't allow myself to walk away from a body of work that carried through my twenties without finishing what I started back then. No way".
The No Sinner's band leader is one of the most versatile, talented singer/songwriters and performers around. Through the new album, one may appreciate even more the beauty and the power of her beautiful voice, something that she might have discovered to have from the early stages of her career. "I didn't think that my voice was that fabulous in the beginning but I started singing when I could walk and talk, you know, it was just something I was doing naturally in my everyday's life. I don't think it was a proper discovery but, I can surely tell you that I knew I had a good voice before anybody else knew it! (wink)".
Old Habits Die Hard introduces, among the many qualities of the record, also a witty side to Rennison's songwriting style through the closing track of the album, Mandy Lyn. The song is robust, thunderous and wild and sums up perfectly the philosophy of No Sinner as a band but does really Mandy Lyn exist or is she just a fictitional character? "We wrote that song even before Boo Hoo Hoo came out. The story behind it is true and it was referring to when myself and Eric went on a crazy road trip with this photographer, Mandy Lyn, actually a very good photographer. She is a F&%$ing bitch but she really is a great photographer! She was starting flipping out while we were in a hotel in Reno, she was losing it and starting to have an episode. Eric and I, at that point, we did not really know what to do so we started playing this song that we made up on the spot, a bit like an improvised nursery rhyme. After that episode, our relationship changed and she ended up doing some really crazy things in her life. We added to that song this Zeppelin's typical 70's sound and turned this made-up nursery rhyme into a song and added in the lyrics all the bullshit that the relationship brought between me and her after that episode. As I said, Mandy is a very talented photographer, a firecracker and a very serious person but she can be a bit of hard maintenance, when we were hanging out together. To cut it short, the song is about somebody that was a friend of mine in the past and no longer is".
One of the virtues of Old Habits Die Hard is the ability to carry, throughout the album, the sound of different decades of rock and roll. "You know, due to the fact that this is an album that has been released through a long period of time since its creation, I guess that, as many musicians do, you just go through different phases and stages. I remember that there was a period where Eric and I listened to a lot of Prince's records, or periods in which we were either hooked on David Bowie's stuff, or Allman Brothers or Joe Cocker, it varied. You can feel that kind of musical schizofrenia throughout the album and, in the songs of Old Habits, I can perfectly see the different influences we went through to during the last 6-7 years. When I listen to the record now, it's like I am almost hearing many different people and different sides of myself and Eric, our musical metamorphosis. You don't realise how much you change, as a person, the kind of evolution you go through especially in a crucial time of everyone's life, like the twenties are and this record is the perfect demonstration of the musical journey we went through".
Whilst Rennison was in the process of having Old Habits Die Hard released by her record label, she was offered the opportunity to record a solo album, See The Sky About To Rain, a delicate and eclectic collection of Canadian folk and country music covers, a challenge Rennison truly enjoyed a lot. "Well, it was a cool challenge for me because I had to dive into the Canadian songbook. When you have people like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young or The Band, for example, with such rich repertoires, that was never going to be an easy task to deliver. It was a true discovery, for me, to find out songs that I have never heard before, like Leonard Cohen's Why Don't You Try. I must confess that we tried to cover Chelsea Hotel but it didn't really feel right because we wanted something a little more obscure that would have represented the work and the nature of this great artist. Either than that, some of the songs on See The Sky About To Rain are more related to my childhood, something that I would have always dreamt, since I was a child, to be able to sing one day and put on a record. Blue Wing (by Tom Russell), is such a personal and powerful song for me because it reminds me of the only place where I have ever heard of that tune, which was the back seat of my dad's car. I have absolutely loved making this record. Funnily enough, this album was supposed to be released even before Boo Hoo Hoo but because my record label had to delay the release of our debut album, as a consequence, also See The Sky's release was postponed".
No Sinner are from Vancouver and the sound coming from one of the biggest cities in Canada has certainly gone through a lot of changes and evolutions through the years, something that Rennison has lived on her own skin too. "Definitely, the city has moved on a lot. As for many other parts of the world, Vancouver too has certainly felt the positive impact of social networks like Facebook, for example, which has allowed many artists to be able to make their music available to millions and millions of people. That includes No Sinner too. As a band, through those social platforms, we had the opportunity to connect with people and for them to find out about us and our music. It has been a true game changing for us as No Sinner, for all Vancouver's artists and for thousand of musicians around the globe. We have now this amazing social DIY tool that allow us musicians to expose our music and spread it directly to the masses. This is certainly, in itself, a massive step ahead not just for the future of music but also for the freedom of creativity of many artists. Sometimes, through this new media platforms, you don't even need to be very good as a musician to be popular and to make your own niche in the music business, as long as you are cool and interesting for the people out there. You can pretty much create your own profile as a musician because the Worldwide Web allow you to do so, avoiding to go through sometimes painful processes within the music business. In that way, you can maintain your integrity as an artist because you won't have anyone breathing on your neck and just shows your artistry in full without limitations. Steps forward for music independence like these are always very welcome".
It's always refreshing and exciting to meet Colleen Rennison. The canadian artist carries into the songs she writes her strong personality, both as a woman and as a performer. Before parting company with Rennison, Bluebird Reviews asks the Canadian artist how much does music give to her emotionally every time and how much does she feel she is giving back to music through her artistry. "Music means life to me. It's such a big part of who I am, I need it like I need water or oxygene to be able to live. If I don't get the chance for a long time to belt out and express my feeling by singing my songs, I kinda get crazy, I feel like I am exploding, it's the way my body works, I guess. Music gave me a lot, it gave me my friends, these awesome guys in the band, the opportunity to travel the world, it gave me freedom. As a consequence, I always try to treat music with respect and approach it with integrity and honour, for the gift that I have been given. I always try to be as honest as I possibly can in my songs and write them from my heart and soul. I never try to sell an image of myself that is not the real me, because I don't want to bullshit anybody. What you see is what you get".
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato